The “Hot Time” novella went dark last night around 5pm Eastern (with one person getting their purchase in quite literally at the last minute: I was taking the Paypal links down as the payment came in!).
This whole project has been an experiment in selling to a direct market. I pretty much think of this as patronage: the people who bought this story made it possible for me to write something that would not otherwise exist–and believe me, this story was one I have known for years *happened* and have wanted to tell, and yet also one which I very possibly never would have made time to write, had I not been paid to do so. So now I’ve got thoughts and commentary about the whole project, which I shall stick behind the cut.
I really genuinely had no idea, starting out, if people would want to pay for me to write them a story. I figured the worst that could happen was the initial fundraising goal detailed here simply wouldn’t work, and I would feel sort of squirmy and embarrassed and “oh well” about it. That’s really just part of the job.
However, it’s been an extremely successful experiment, all told. Between the first and second rounds of sales, about 140 people bought in, making my pay-per-word around $.08. That’s unquestionably a professional rate–a pretty damned good one, in fact, for short stories–and I’m completely delighted with not only the word rate but the number of people who opted to buy the story. I’d started out February hoping for 30 sales and thinking 50 would be really amazing, and I got nearly 90, which I’m simply agog over. It makes me want to rush out and write the next story in the sequence right away.
I’ve learned a couple things doing this. One is that it’s pretty damned nerve-wracking writing something on a short deadline for an exclusive audience who’s already ponied up the cash for the project. In fact, I blew my deadline by a month. On the other hand, the story ended up 3 times longer than my initial expectation, and the story patrons were wonderfully understanding when, humiliated, I emailed them and said “Look, I cannot do this in the time allotted, but it’ll be a much longer and better story in another month.” So probably in a really ideal situation I’d write the story first, then put it up for a patronage drive…but on the other hand, that’s sort of defeating the “it doesn’t get written unless I get paid” aspect, so I’m not sure.
Another thing I’ve learned is that frankly, it’s hard to advertise something like this without feeling like a shill. I’m profoundly grateful to the people who re-posted and Tweeted and Facebooked about it, and I appreciate that my more-or-less captive LJ audience didn’t throw tomatoes at me. I feel like there must be some better way to advertise, but I can’t figure out what it is (this, actually, is a recurring problem as an artist, I think, and I would dearly love to find a way past that hump).
I’ve also discovered that it seems that my approach for this whole project is a little different than many people working on the direct-sales model. A lot of people are apparently selling stories or books which eventually become online freebies. I’m much more inclined to just write freebies if it’s going to end up free in the end anyway, and to turn this kind of model into a scenario where I’m building up a backlog of short stories and new material which I can eventually sell to a traditional publisher, and therefore continue to make money off it. This is, after all, how I make my living. It’s utterly brilliant if I can ask a widespread group of patrons to support the creation of a new story in the short term, and give them exclusive access to that story–to that creative piece which they made possible–but in the long term, I need my words to keep generating income for me.
So the next step for this project is finding a traditional publisher for the novella. I feel I have two options here: one is to approach a smaller press and propose a short anthology of some 60,000 words which would include “Hot Time”, “From Russia, With Love” and the online freebie “Five Card Draw” as well as 3 or 4 new stories which would complete a sequence revolving in large part around Vanessa Grey, Daisani’s assistant from HEART OF STONE. This to me is the ideal next step. I love the idea that this series of stories could be collected as almost an aside to the Old Races universe; that someday when I go back to writing full-length novels in that world, that readers who’ve read that anthology would have an enriched experience with the universe without taking anything away from the readers who hadn’t. I love the idea that one or two characters could get exclusive focus in a small, dedicated anthology, and that their stories could be made to weft and wind around each other in a way that would be showcased and highlighted by a small anthology.
The second option is a much larger anthology which “Hot Time” might potentially be an anchor story for. I would probably try selling that to Luna, who published the Negotiator trilogy. An anthology of that size would cover a great deal more time than a smaller one, and have a much greater breadth of characters and dip further into the universe’s history (and possibly future!). I find that an equally appealing idea for completely different reasons. It’s also a longer-term project idea: I’d want half of it written before I even pitched it, and even if I included all the Old Races stories I’ve written so far I haven’t reached a halfway mark.
Either way, I will almost certainly repeat this direct-market sales strategy again in the future. In fact, what I’d really *love* to do is to do this quarterly, though I of course have no idea if the market could bear such conditions. It seems pretty likely that it’ll just happen once this year, as last year (the Jane Yellowrock-Joanne Walker crossover story might be the next project of that nature, actually, maybe sometime this fall.), but perhaps as I’m able to grow a broader base of direct patrons it’s something I can do more regularly. One way or another, I’ve certainly enjoyed it, I got a lot of positive feedback, and it seems like this should be a system that can be refined and continue to work.